FULTON, NY – Many seasonal campers at Fulton’s North Bay Campground were outraged to learn that the Common Council had increased the season rate for the 2017 season.
Last month, the council implemented a variety of new and increased rates including the seasonal site rate increase from $675 to $850.
Some routine seasonal campers approached the Common Council at a regular meeting held Tuesday (Feb 7) to express their distaste in the rate changes.
“It’s a good old home-style campground and to have that large of an increase in one season just doesn’t seem fair,” said Fulton resident, Mark Jeffrey.
Jeffrey expressed understanding of the situation, but drew on a few concerns.
“I understand where the need for a rate increase is necessary for the campground to improve it,” Jeffrey said, however he was looking for a guarantee that the increases would in fact produce improvements at the campground.
Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. clarified that the campground only profited approximately $4,000 last year of which the recreation department was able to make some repairs to the campground.
“The reality is we came $4,000 ahead this year and we put a roof on one of the buildings and we put new toilets in one of the buildings. I look at that and with the increase, and of course they extended the season because of Dirt Week, so I’m looking at a seasonal camper as paying a little over five bucks a night… that don’t seem like an awful lot of money,” Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. said.
However, Jeffrey said that many of the annually returning seasonal campers are on a fixed budget, many of them senior citizens.
“To increase it $175 in one season with individuals on fixed incomes who planned on the rate being $675, to jump up that great and have two months to come up with a full payment, I don’t know how that works out. My concern is, is there any easement? Or any way that they can have some of it waived or structured that they can pay the rest through the summer? Just some type of solution for them,” he questioned.
Woodward replied, “That campground belongs to all the taxpayers in Fulton, not 35 seasonal (campers) and most of the people in Fulton don’t camp over there so they don’t need to subsidize it.”
“If you look at the list of people going there, there’s a lot of people from outside the city and outside the state camping there and that’s what we want from a tourism standpoint. I’m sympathetic for the seniors, I’m a senior and we do a lot in this city for our seniors. They have exemptions on their property taxes, we give them a discount rate for the senior nutrition program but there comes a point where you have to realize, if you’re going to use it, then that’s who should pay for it,” he continued.
An example of one of those senior seasonal campers on a fixed income, Llewellyn Halstead of Scriba has been camping at North Bay for more than 50 years and found the rate increases to be “rude.”
Halstead said he looked into nearby campground rates to compare.
“I found one campground in the whole area that’s $750, that camp still has 50 amp circuits and it still has sewer. It doesn’t have water or a lake to fish in, but with 30 amp circuits and no septic, I think it’s kind of rude to put the rates up that high,” he said.
Another camper from North Syracuse agreed, emphasizing that the proposed rate is not fair considering what North Bay Campground has to offer.
“It was brought to us in the phrase that ‘we’re trying to be like a state campground.’ Well, state campgrounds have a lot more amenities than what we have here. There’s a sorry playground for the kids, the older kids have nothing to do, the trails aren’t kept, the beach isn’t kept up, you send your kids down to play on the sand and they’re finding glass and nothing but weeds,” she said.
However, the site being closer to home is more convenient than other campgrounds and so she chooses to return with her family each year.
“The increase to $850 is just an exaggerated cost for what there is to offer there,” she stated.
Delays to improvements at the campsite have come from a dwindling budget for the recreation department.
The recreation department is headed by superintendent, Barry Ostrander who employs one full-time worker and then relies on few seasonal and volunteer workers to complete the immense workload of the city.
The department is responsible for more than 150 acres of mowing throughout the city including ten parks and upkeep of city maintained properties and programs.
“(North Bay) is a small part of the recreation department. We run the Knee High program, they pay for that – Knee High does. We’ve got Fulton Figure Skating, they pay for that, they pay for their ice and all of that. Most of that stuff that we have, they pay a user fee like we are asking the campers to do because we don’t feel its fair to make the taxpayers to subsidize something that targets a select group,” Woodward explained.
Any profit from the campground goes into the general revenues fund of the city budget.
Ostrander said that as the city budget continued to dwindle in years past, he and his department have done their best to keep the campground solvent.
“Any money driven from recreations programs go to the general fund of the city,” Ostrander explained. “When push comes to shove at budget time, recreation takes a back seat not just here but in communities all over the country. Recreation isn’t considered a necessity like public safety, instead it’s about quality of life, to make people come into our community.”
However, Ostrander has done as best as possible to maintain the campground despite “a very, very small profit margin” and without “any kind of wiggle room” to make major improvements.
“Ultimately it’s up to the council to make the decision (to change the rates) but I understand their concerns. We all want to keep the campground solvent, we don’t want taxpayers to subsidize it so I’ve been careful to keep it above water,” Ostrander said.
While he wishes the department was able to make major improvements, he didn’t feel the rate increases were singled out either, he said.
“The campground is aging, it needs a lot of work. I would love to see those improvements made. I sympathize with them, it’s a big increase but on the other side, the council has raised the water, sewer, and garbage rates, they’re really looking into everything systematically. It’s been across the board,” he said.
Ultimately, the council said the comments and concerns addressed would be brought back to the recreation committee to look at it again.
** This article has been edited as of 2/9/2017